Pub Companies - Business and Enterprise Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations


1.  Whatever the effect of the pubco model on competition, which we examine later in this Report, the imbalance of bargaining power and information between pubcos and their lessees has produced a system which is biased against lessees, and needs to be examined in depth. Accordingly this Report examines the industry from first principles rather than being, as we first expected, a simple check on the implementation of the Trade and Industry Committee's recommendations. (Paragraph 12)

Pub closures

2.  It is clear that figures for pub closures do not adequately cover cases where individual lessees go out of business without the pub itself actually closing. We cannot be confident that pubco lessees are less likely to fail than other publicans. (Paragraph 35)

Rent assessment

3.  Lessees must appreciate that if a chartered surveyor is involved in their rent negotiation he or she is acting on behalf of a client and that is a legitimate role. However membership of a chartered institution is no longer considered an automatic guarantee of integrity and certainly not of impartiality; RICS members called on to act in arbitration should be aware of the sensitivity of their situation and must be scrupulous in declaring their interests. (Paragraph 41)


4.  Given the inherent subjectivity of the rental valuation method, it is very important that there is transparency about the assumptions on which it has been calculated. We note that there is disagreement between lessee representatives and pubcos over whether the Trade and Industry Committee's recommendation that "Pubcos should provide their tenants with a comprehensive breakdown of how their rent was calculated" has been implemented. The evidence that this recommendation has not been fully implemented is confirmed by our survey results which show that 44% of lessees had not been shown a breakdown of how their rent was calculated. This is unacceptable. (Paragraph 45)

5.  We note that, without transparency, rental calculations are open to manipulation by the pubcos, in particular by systematically underestimating the costs for a lessee of running their pub. We recommend that there should be industry guidelines on the average costs of running a pub such as those in the ALMR benchmarking survey. These can be used by lessees as comparators against the rental assessments put forward by their pubco. (Paragraph 47)

Trading history

6.  We accept that in many cases pubcos do not have access to their lessees' books. However, they have access to a substantial amount of information about the business of a particular pub, and are likely to have extensive information if a business is in difficulties. Pubcos entering a commercial relationship with a new lessee should be required to share all their information on a pub's trading history with them. (Paragraph 54)


7.  A system must be put in place to allow lessees to assess whether their rent is fair and in line with similar businesses. Our predecessor's recommendation to create a register of rent reviews would have increased transparency. We note it has been disregarded, and neither the pubcos nor RICS has taken any serious action to make sure the rental system is not unfairly biased against the lessee. (Paragraph 58)

A new valuation method?

8.  The rental valuation method for pubs appears to be the product of history and tradition. If it is to be fair, there must be far greater transparency about how rents are calculated to ensure equality between the parties to the negotiations. If this is not improved as a matter of urgency, there are compelling arguments for abandoning the method entirely. (Paragraph 60)

Rent reviews

9.  It is difficult to measure the extent to which trade has increased because of improvements to the premises funded by the lessee. Nonetheless, we consider it is manifestly unfair for pubcos to profit from increases in trade brought about by such changes; here, too, transparency on how rent is calculated and access to figures for comparable premises would properly strengthen the lessee's negotiating position. (Paragraph 70)

10.  Our witnesses are divided over the merits of annual RPI rental adjustments. The pubcos claim this prevents lessees having to deal with a large increase in the five yearly rent review; lessees consider it a way of gradually increasing pubcos' share of the profits, and of reducing pubcos' share of the risk. The evidence is finely balanced, and we are not the appropriate body to resolve the question. Two things are clear; firstly, pubcos' greater bargaining power has enabled them in at least some cases to insist that upward only rent reviews are replaced by annual rental adjustments in line with RPI; secondly, if rental is linked to RPI it should be done in a way which enables reductions when appropriate. (Paragraph 75)

The beer tie

11.  The effect of the beer tie on basic rent is that both pubco and lessee take a lower income. However, while the decrease in the lessee's income is absolute, the pubco has £110 from that part of the discount on its barrelage it has not passed on to the lessee. The reduction in rent is accompanied by a reduction in the lessee's profit but an increase in the pubco's overall revenue. (Paragraph 84)

12.  If the interests of the pubcos operating a tied system and their lessees were truly aligned, one would expect that pubcos would want a system in which the combination of rental costs and beer costs enabled their lessees to supply beer at a price which was competitive with other pubs. This does not seem to be the case. (Paragraph 87)

Purchasing power

13.  We believe it is seriously misleading for any pubco to promote to potential lessees that a pubco has benefits from 'purchasing power' when that benefit is not passed on to lessees. (Paragraph 92)

Enforcing the tie

14.  It is entirely legitimate for a company to seek to ensure that the other party to a contract respects its terms. However, we believe that where a measurement device is used to police this, it should be properly calibrated, and subject to external verification. If necessary, the Weights and Measures Act 1985 should be amended to ensure this. Furthermore, given the impossibility of distinguishing between beer dispensed and sold, beer run off and disposed of preparatory to serving, and water used to clean the lines, we believe pubcos should not be allowed to rely on data from Brulines equipment to enforce claims against lessees accused of buying outside the tie. (Paragraph 98)

AWP tie

15.  In 2004 the Trade and Industry Committee concluded that "In our opinion, pubcos do not add sufficient extra value from their deals to justify their claims to 50 percent of the takings from AWP machines. We remain unconvinced that the benefits of the AWP machine tie outweigh the income tenants forgo and we recommend that the AWP machine tie be removed." That conclusion remains valid. (Paragraph 103)


16.  Pubcos have a right to require that each of their pubs is fully and properly insured. It may well be that the insurance offered through pubcos is as good as or better than any that lessees could arrange directly. Nonetheless, since lessees are frequently not allowed sight of the policy, it is impossible to establish whether this is the case. Moreover, it is also clear that some insurance policies require the lessees to pay for a benefit to the pubco. We do not see why pubcos should not themselves take out insurance against the risks they face directly. (Paragraph 108)

Benefits of the pubco tied model

17.  We conclude that pubcos may offer a lower cost route into the industry and the opportunity for a lessee to create or maintain an asset in the assignment value of the lease. However, this benefit is accompanied by uncertainty about the value of the asset which a lessee is purchasing, and the extent to which that value can be maintained. While those who purchase a freehold property may face higher initial outgoings, they obtain a tangible asset. Purchasers of freehold leases have greater commercial freedom. (Paragraph 114)

18.  Moreover the attraction of low cost entry should not be overstated: a very significant majority of those who responded to our survey said they were attracted by a particular pub, not a particular business model. Lessees apparently often choose tied pubs simply because they are what are available in their preferred location, or because they are attracted to a particular pub. That would mean that pubcos were, by virtue of their large estates, diminishing competition by forcing those who wish to run pubs into their business model. (Paragraph 115)

Business support

19.  The Trade and Industry Committee found that "the performance of business development managers (BDMs) varied across the industry from excellent to dire." That conclusion remains valid. The evidence we have received suggests that there are still too many BDMs who offer lessees little or no support, and some who bully or intimidate them. Moreover, some of our evidence suggests that this culture is not limited to BDMs but can reach further up a company. (Paragraph 120)

Financial Assistance

20.  It is surprising that the link between financial assistance and the extension of the tie was not made clear in oral evidence. Financial assistance which is offset by an increase in rental or an extension of the tie is, in effect, 'repayable' and does not confer the benefit claimed by the pubcos. (Paragraph 125)

21.  We accept that pubcos are helping their lessees with financial assistance but there are many lessees who appear to be eligible for aid but do not receive it. Pubcos need to make their policies on the administration of financial help clear with a fair and open application process for such assistance. Lessees need to know on what grounds they are turned down. (Paragraph 128)

22.  The Trade and Industry Committee found that, on the evidence presented to them, the immediately quantifiable cost of the tie was usually balanced by the benefits available to tenants. From the evidence we have received, we are not so convinced. We are particularly struck by the results of our survey which found that 63% of lessees did not think their pubco added any value. The pubcos offer little support that cannot be found by normal market methods. (Paragraph 129)

A fair share of profits?

23.  Increasing a pub's turnover will benefit the pubco as it increases the sale of tied products. To our surprise it does not seem to benefit the lessee to nearly the same extent. Over 50% of the lessees whose pubs had turnover of more than £500,000 a year earned less than £15,000. The pubcos may share the risks with their lessees but they do not share the benefits equitably. (Paragraph 133)

Lessees' attitude to the tie

24.  The dispute over the tie could be ended easily: every lessee could be offered the choice of being free or being tied. This would enable both sides to prove their competing claims. We believe each and every existing lessee should, in a phased programme, be offered this choice and the same choice should be offered to every new lessee as he or she takes on the lease. To make the choice fair, the process of agreeing revised rents must first be improved as we have previously recommended. (Paragraph 138)

25.  Although a voluntary agreement is preferable, we doubt that the pubcos would respond effectively to such an approach. We therefore recommend that the Department considers how best to achieve this end and that it opens an urgent consultation into the principle and phasing of this proposal. The status quo is not an option. (Paragraph 139)

Dispute resolution

26.  The small number of cases pursued to independent arbitration should not be taken as a sign that all is well. It could simply demonstrate that, even though they were dissatisfied, lessees did not consider the dispute resolution system appropriate. (Paragraph 142)

27.  We agree that some form of low-cost independent procedure for dealing with disputes over the rate of rent is needed and needed urgently. The BII's proposed dispute resolution system in which fees will be known at the outset, and will be related to rental value is, in principle, welcome. We would be more confident in the prospects for the successful implementation of the BII's proposal if the Trade and Industry Committee had not recommended precisely such a procedure over four years ago. We are astounded that nothing has yet been done. (Paragraph 149)

Legal remedies

28.  The BBPA's Framework Code of Practice and the recommendations of the Trade and Industry Committee have not solved the problems of inequality in bargaining power and inadequate means to resolve disputes identified in 2004: we believe that more is now needed. (Paragraph 156)

29.  Our inquiry has inevitably attracted evidence from dissatisfied lessees. We have tried to counter that by being as open as possible to the pubcos, and by commissioning our own survey. We note that in our survey results some pubcos fared better than others. It is clear from our evidence that some lessees act recklessly, or enter into business without due diligence. That is not the pubcos' failing. Nonetheless, the pubco model should be based on a share of risk and reward. That may be the case in some circumstances, but the two parties to the contract have vastly differing bargaining power. The financial data from our survey suggests that for a great many lessees, the risk remains with them while the lion's share of the profit goes to the pubco. We are not saying that all, or even any, pubcos abuse all lessees all the time, but it is clear that not only is there potential for abuse, but also that abuse occurs. (Paragraph 157)

30.  Consumers are protected from unequal bargaining power by the unfair contract terms legislation. The law assumes that both parties to a business contract have equal resources and expertise. This is clearly not the case here — but if a pubco tried to enforce its contract through legal proceedings, courts would be very reluctant to determine whether those contract terms were fair because of the presumption that commercial contracts are made between equals. We recommend that the Department for Business and Enterprise urgently explore ways of ensuring that there are safeguards to prevent inequalities of bargaining power in business contracts being abused. (Paragraph 158)

Competition Issues

31.  We believe it is for the market to decide whether a pub is unviable and not for a pubco to restrict a building's use. We therefore recommend that the Government makes the use of restrictive covenants to prevent the continued use of premises as a pub illegal. (Paragraph 176)

32.  We believe that the supply ties operated by pubcos may well be anti-competitive and may have a detrimental effect on the public house market. We are disappointed that the OFT has failed to act on this matter in the past and has refused to acknowledge the current problems in the market. Since the OFT is unwilling to initiate an appropriate investigation, we recommend that the Secretary of State uses powers set out in section 159 of the Enterprise Act 2002 to refer supply ties in the public house industry to the Competition Commission for a market investigation. Given its clearly stated position, we do not believe an OFT investigation would be satisfactory. (Paragraph 190)

33.  Our provisional view is that the tying of beers, other drinks and ancillary products should be severely limited to ensure that competition in the retail market is restored. However, we note that interventions can have unexpected consequences. The Beer Orders led to the emergence of pubcos, simply replacing one group of powerful players with another. Displacing pubcos without considering the market as a whole may put too much power into the hands of brewers and wholesalers. The position of local brewers operating a small tied estate also needs to be considered; we would not wish to damage regional brewers. For these reasons we are calling for an urgent investigation rather than making a policy recommendation. (Paragraph 191)


34.  This Report contains recommendations which will affect the way in which businesses can treat one another. Some might argue that this can be left to the market. Pubcos which not only benefit themselves but support their lessees are likely to stay in business. If pubcos push too hard and are too greedy they will fail. But on the way bad companies will inflict real damage on their direct customers, the lessees, and on their indirect customers, ordinary drinkers. (Paragraph 193)

35.  It may be the industry's problems can be solved by a framework ensuring fairness and transparency in dealings between landlord and lessee. It may be necessary to ensure that inequalities in bargaining power are recognised, even when business contracts are involved. It may be that the beer tie should be prohibited. The OFT has failed to examine this market properly; the Government should now assume responsibility, to ensure both that competition issues are properly investigated and that the wider legal framework is adequate. (Paragraph 194)

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